Aim: To provide students with an awareness of the lives of Jewish children and youth before the Shoah.
- PowerPoint Presentation - Through Our Eyes: The World of Children before the Shoah
- Contents of PowerPoint Presentation
- Group Discussion
- Creative Assignment (Assessment)
When we approach the story of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, we must show our students real people with unique and individual identities. It is our task to restore the distinctiveness of the victims: their names, characters, aspirations, talents and dreams. This prevents them from becoming anonymous casualties of the Holocaust.
We need to emphasize that each victim had his or her own personality and identity. Each was an irreplaceable person whom the Germans sought to erase from the face of the earth. We have a responsibility to draw out the distinct personal characteristics of each individual, family and community that was lost in the Shoah.
So who were these Jewish people whose identities the Germans sought to wipe out and destroy? In order to realize what was lost, we must become familiar with Jewish life prior to Nazi rule. This will also help us understand the various ways that Jewish people of all ages and backgrounds responded to the increasing violence during the Holocaust. By learning about Jewish cultural, spiritual and family life, we can give the Jewish victim a name and a face, evoking a sense of empathy with them, as they become real people with human identities. The empathy created allows a more meaningful discussion of the Holocaust.
A depth of understanding of the Jewish world before the Shoah is also vital in order to dispel a common preconception about the Jewish victims – uncivilized, uncultured people who lived in closed communities. This conjures up images of Jews who lived in "shtetls," drew water from a well, traded in the market place, etc. In actuality, on the eve of the Shoah the situation of European Jewry was much more complex: Large collectives of a range of Jews lived both in city centers and in rural villages, many of whom were involved in universal undertakings that affected popular culture and society.
Powerpoint PresentationPowerpoint Presentation
The presentation "Through Our Eyes: The World of Children before the Shoah" takes the students into the world of Jewish children before WWII. Through diary entries, testimonies, film clips and photos, children from a variety of countries – Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Lithuania, Hungary, Greece, Tunisia and more – describe their personal experiences. These children grew up in families with distinct lifestyles and with diverse Jewish identities. However, as children they lived and developed like any other around the world. Ask the students to pay attention to the names of the children, their ages and countries in which they were born. With the help of photos, films and diary excerpts, they will come to know them: their personalities, their families, the schools they attended, their interests and their hobbies.
Group DiscussionGroup Discussion
Following the screening of "Through Our Eyes: The World of Children before the Shoah," engage the group/class in a conversation that will serve as an introduction to the assignment.
Ask the students:
What questions would you ask if you were to meet a fellow student from a different country or culture?
Tell the group that they will be creating projects/presentations about the lives of Jewish children before the Shoah. It is helpful for them to have this information as they engage with the resources.
From factors raised in the dialogue, or by consensus, focus on two out of the following three topics:
- Jewish Identity
- Leisure, Culture and Sport
- Childhood and School
For each of the topics, you will find a variety of resources through which we can learn about the lives of youth and children:
- Diary Entries – Diaries provide a glimpse into the world of the children and youth from a personal perspective, which conveys the reality of these children at that time as they experienced it. The selections are written from the vantage point of the youth and children, and are not distorted by the input of adults or by knowledge of events that were going to occur.
- Memoirs – Written after the Shoah, the author of his or her memoirs has the benefit of a vantage point that allows connections to be made between events before the war and the period of horror that ensued.
- Photos – The purpose of photos is not purely illustrative; they also serve as a significant source of information one can examine with students. Pose questions about what is in the picture, and what is possibly missing.
- Archival Footage – Similar to photographs, these films allow a peek into a world that no longer exists, and provide visual support of written descriptions and testimonies.
- Testimony Footage – Testimonies are actually a type of meeting between the students and survivors. In addition to the words, the testimonies impart the tone, tenor and yearnings for home and for the world that was. Additionally, the fact that the survivor tells their story is proof of a return to life.
*We recommend that teachers draw attention to the distinctive features of the resources and how they differ from each other.
Leisure, Culture and Sport
- How do the activities described compare to those enjoyed by children today? How can we account for the differences? (Pay attention to the range of activities: movies, theatre, sports. In particular, those recalled by Shmulik Shiloh are reminiscent of current times.)
- What can we learn from the descriptions about how much Jews integrated into their surroundings? Is it possible to identify differences in the levels of integration? Or in efforts to protect Jewish identity? (In the diary entries of Hannah Szenes and Anna Hilman, for example, there are references to integration into general society. In photos and anecdotes about sport, Jewish groups with Hebrew names stand out.) It is important to note that Jews also competed against local teams, illustrated in the photo of the field where Jewish and Polish teams are facing off. It is worth asking the students to identify the characteristics of the teams in the photos – what can we learn about the composition of the teams?
- Ask the students to come up with a title that conveys the feeling that these elements raise.
- Why do you think Jewish sports teams choose Hebrew names for their groups?
- What was the role of the synagogue?
- What can we learn about Jewish identity from the photos and entries? (Draw the students’ attention to the use of the Hebrew language, children’s names, e.g. Herzl, and the central role of Jewish holidays – ask about the costumes and their relevance. Given the fact that the testimonies are reflections on a range of communities – Poland, Tunisia, Greece, Germany, etc. – it is important to refer to the significance of the common elements.)
- How are the factors described in the resources similar to what is going on today in the lives of young Jews in today's world? How are they different? How can we account for the differences?
Childhood and School
- What was the system of education for Jewish children? What can we learn from this about Jewish identity? What influenced the parents’ choice of school for their children? (It is important to note that parents didn’t always have a choice. There were some places that had mandatory education laws. There were also financial and other considerations.)
- What created a sense of belonging to the city or town the children lived in?
- What can we learn about relationships with their non-Jewish surroundings? (Here it is also worth noting the many languages that are recalled in the anecdotes and the significance of using the local language: Hebrew, Yiddish or Ladino.)
- Bertha Lautman wrote in her memoirs "I remember that life was good." Which of the descriptions support her statement? Do her words describe the whole picture?
Why, in your opinion, despite many antisemitic occurrences, do most of the youth describe their lives during the period before the war in a positive light?
Creative AssignmentCreative Assignment
Following the PowerPoint presentation and conversation, give the students time to design and create a project to illustrate what they have learned. These projects can be displayed as a class exhibit, or as something larger for the entire school.
Divide the students into pairs or groups to prepare the creative assignments. When they are completed, have each group present its project. This can be in front of the class, or before a group of special invitees. Ask them to reflect on the process, decisions and considerations that led them to the choices they made.
Choose from the following tasks:
- Create a newspaper that reflects the lives of young people prior to the Shoah:
- What sections will be included?
- What language will it be in?
- What events will be covered?
- What ads will appear?
- What issues will be raised in "letters to the editor" or "advice columns"?
- Create a display of a child’s room from before the Shoah. Think about which items you could include that would convey information about that child and their life. What is on the shelves? What is in the closet? Is there homework on the desk? What about toys?
- Create a "home page" for a "Through our Eyes: The World of Children before the Shoah" website. Think about what should be included in order to draw people to the site to learn about the topic.